Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

In today’s new video: Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle. It is difficult, but I learned a lot about spinning long draw and how to feel what the fiber wants.

This is the fourth post in my cotton blog series. Previous posts have been about my opinion of the cotton industrycotton processing and spinning cotton on a Tahkli spindle. So, here is my video about spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle.

Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle

I love spinning on my Navajo spindles. I love the whole-body approach to it. Especially when you compare it to the more fine-tuning supported spindle spinning where you mostly use your fingers. When I spin on my Navajo spindles I can use big movements and involve my whole body.

So far, I have only spun wool on my Navajo spindles. But when I read Connie Delaney’s book Spindle spinning from novice to expert I learned that Native Americans spun cotton on ground-resting spindles in pre-columbian times. Of course I needed to try that too!

The Navajo spindle is a perfect tool for spinning cotton. Since it is supported by the ground there is no weight on the yarn or fiber. When spun with a lot of twist cotton is strong, but before that happens you can’t put any weight on it.

Long draw

Spinning cotton is done best with a long draw from hand-carded rolags. And the only way to spin on a Navajo spindle is to spin long draw, preferably from hand-carded rolags. Isn’t that the perfect match! Here is my take on carding cotton.

As I covered in the post on spinning cotton on aTahkli spindle, cotton is very sensitive to compression, so it is vital to hold the rolag very lightly. Hold it as if it were a newly hatched chicken.

How I spin cotton on a Navajo spindle

While some spinners spin the fiber twice or even three times, I prefer to use a double draft. This means that I draft the fiber two times in the same take. The first time is to get the twist evenly into an amount of fiber. The second draft is to even out the twist and to reach the final thickness of the yarn.

Close-up of a person spinning on a Navajo spindle
Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle., the first draft. Like magic, the twist enters the fibers and yarn happens.

This is how I do it

  • With a very light hand I roll the shaft to build up the twist in the yarn. I let the fiber hand follow the motions of the rolling. I let the rolling rest in the angle at the base between my thumb and index finger.
  • After a given amount of rolls, I move my fiber hand outwards, letting the twist enter the fiber. This first draft gives me a roving. After a certain length I can’t stretch my fiber arm any more and I wind the roving onto my fiber hand so that the yarn never slacks.
  • Now I make the second draft in comfortable arm-length sections. I roll and draft, always making sure that there is enough twist to hold the yarn together, and enough mobility to allow the fibers rearrange themselves more evenly. If there are lumps, I open up the twist by untwisting slightly between my hands. For this both of my hands are on the yarn, controlling the piece between them.
  • A final add of extra twist. Cotton needs a lot of twist to hold together and make a strong yarn. I realized that this yarn didn’t have enough twist, so after the video was made I went through the yarn again and added extra twist.
  • When I have spun for a while I transfer the spun yarn down to the permanent cop, using my fiber hand as a middle station.
Josefin Waltin spinning on a Navajo spindle.
Transferring the yarn to the permanent cop, using my fiber hand as a middle station.

Doing the Navajo dance

Spinning on a Navajo spindle is almost like dancing. The hands are constantly leading and following each other and working together in a given choreography. The fiber is their master and the hands need to listen to the fiber to be able to make the right moves. When the spindle hand rolls the shaft to gather up the twist the fiber hand follows in a gentle motion. The fiber hand takes over the control in the first draft and the spindle hand allows for a matching resistance. In the second draft both hands work together.

Allow your hands to really listen to the fiber. Cotton is a picky master, but the fiber usually tells you what it wants. I can literally feel when the twist enters the fiber in the second draft. Be sure to pay attention to what the fiber tells you.

The scenery

I shot this video outside our common laundry room. A sweet white building under a big oak. A century ago it used to be a stable for the horses that worked in the factories that were here before our house was built.

It was a really windy day in the end of September and I had a hard time keeping control over fiber, yarn and hair.

The Navajo spindle (and bowl that is outside of the picture) is from Roosterick.

Josefin Waltin spinning on a long-shafted spindle.
It was a windy day!

Happy spinning!


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2 Replies to “Spinning cotton on a Navajo spindle”

  1. Interestingly, before traders convinced Navaho (Dine) weavers to make rugs instead of blankets around the turn of the 20th century, they used small spindles for both wool and cotton. The long spindles were developed by spinners in response to then need for heavier yarns for rugs. The small spindles were also generally supported, but it is worthwhile to note that the cotton originally used was Pima, a long-staple cotton native to the American Southwest, and domesticated by the Pueblo. It is from the Pueblo that the Dine (always a pragmatic people) learned to spin cotton. The technique used did not involve dangling the spindle, but drawing off the tip, similar to the way the long spindle is used today. It was used to spin very fine thread, and the cloth itself was so fine that it amazed Europeans. Recently, there has been a resurgence of cotton-weaving among the Dine and Pueblo peoples.

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